Tag Archives: philosophy

On Art and Expression

One thing, which is largely disconcerting in Western culture, is the approach and view we have towards expression – primarily artistic expression. It seems that expression in some way presents an individual as being conceited and pretentious. As though that individual has a superiority complex and values themselves above all others because they can express themselves. Malsow, in his nominal work ‘Motivation and Personality’, sums this up perfectly. He purports that, “The United States particularly is dominated by the Puritan and pragmatic spirit, which stresses work, struggle and striving, soberness and earnestness, and, above all, purposefulness.” Art and expression is viewed as an uncontrolled and effortless practice. Whereas the table is a practical item, used to serve a purpose the painting is merely for show. Where the plumber offers a service, the artist is, on the contrary, an uncontrollable menace. And this view undercuts all of Western society. The differences can be observed within philosophy. Whilst the German sect was considering the soul and phenomenology, Britain was preoccupied with Calvinism, the practical and almost stoical view of religion and theology. 

 

As a result, we promote a culture of repression. The theme of repression and sublimation is a motif in much literature throughout the 19th and 20th century. The idea that one had to subvert the cultural norm to be true to oneself is common in works such as ‘A Clockwork Orange’. Even here we see an authoritative figure brainwash and recondition an individual to think exactly like we ought to think – pragmatically, with practicality and a purpose.

 

Moreover, we are a society and a culture obsessed with justification and meaning attached to our lives and acts. How often do you hear the expression “that doesn’t make sense” and indeed, perhaps it doesn’t. T. S. Elliot, in my interpretation, deals with this very well in much of his poetry. The elusive and tenuous, yet abundant, allusions within his work to other poetical works often leave us none the wiser after reading and studying further. We’re often left bewildered by what the work meant. What was its purpose? Why did he say that? He said it for no reason. He said it because it sounded elegant; it was beautiful; it was expression.

 

We constantly aim to confine ourselves within rules and constraints. A kind of bureaucratic way of living our lives, we are categorizing each individual instance so it has purpose and meaning. But spontaneity is too easy in the eyes of an authority. Youthful abandon is naïve and we should move on from this, apparently. Instead we should aim for purpose and a strict role to perform. This idea is all so mundane. Alternatively we should direct our efforts to a Taoist life and promote a kind of action through non-action; perhaps, one can argue, a modern wu wei.

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Is there a god?

Although I don’t truly reject the possibility of there being a god of some sort – that being an omnipotent god in general, not “God” – I do find that an unravelling of the arguments which support the idea of a god does need to take place in order to answer the questions purported, therefore enabling us to offer an intelligent, intellectual response to questions which may interrogate our beliefs.

Therefore, it must be duly noted that we can assume we are the only animals that are consciously aware of their inevitable death. We understand that life is finite and eventually we will perish. Some claim to have come to terms with this; Existentialists, for example, offer the view that “existence precedes essence,” thus meaning that a god of sorts doesn’t determine who we are and our purpose but we in turn do or have to.

Returning to the idea of being aware of our inevitable death, Julia Kristeva offers the theory of “abjectment” in “The Powers of Horror.” As Kristeva puts it, “Abjection preserves what existed in the archaism of pre-objectal relationship, in the immemorial violence with which a body becomes separated from another body in order to be.” This, therefore, marks a moment between where we become disassociated with the other or ‘the mother’. This leads me to a couple of ideas: one is that we are suddenly encumbered and overwhelmed with an enormous sense of responsibility – whether we are consciously or subconsciously aware of it, I don’t know – although I do suspect it’s likely to be subconscious for a large part of our lives (perhaps repressed) and then we become consciously aware later on. We were used to being provided for on a daily basis without having to request it. Now, in this new system, we have to find a way to voice our concerns through biological noises and eventually linguistic development (See Halliday’s 7 stages of linguistic development). Eventually we become used to this idea of borders, rules, laws etc and become used to this system of establishment and of order.

The second idea, however, is the sense of having to find new orders and establishments or a sense of authority. We fear that we’re “doing it wrong,” as Milan Kundera points out in The Unbearable Lightness of Being, we have nothing to compare our lives to and subsequently fear it is all wrong. This leads us to establish a form of authority and a form of leadership which promotes virtue and offers a direction. God, in this instance, would appear to me to be a superficial creation from man in order to establish guidance as a resort to this primal existence – a longing to be back within the mother’s womb (as grotesque as that may seem).

However, if the establishment of an authority and principles isn’t the cause for the creation of god then abjection offers the former idea I purport – the overwhelming sense of responsibility coupled with our recognition and acknowledgement of death. Kristeva says:

A wound with blood and pus, or the sickly, acrid smell of sweat, of decay, does not signify death. In the presence of signified death—a flat encephalograph, for instance—I would understand, react, or accept. No, as in true theater, without makeup or masks, refuse and corpses show me what I permanently thrust aside in order to live. These body fluids, this defilement, this shit are what life withstands, hardly and with difficulty, on the part of death. There, I am at the border of my condition as a living being.

It is this clear distinction  between the knowledge of death and the awareness of death which forces a rational being to regress to the most primal of our outlooks. The awareness of death no longer being thrust aside disrupts our whole being and existence because, although we’re knowledgeable of it, we’re never constantly aware of death. When death “infects life” we call for this order and a response to the chaos and so we create the prospect of a god which offers a form of salvation for our suffering. We justify our suffering by saying “this is the best of all possible worlds” and say that our reality is a form of perception and the perfect form lies beyond this – this is what god has created, not that which we can see. We become confronted with our superficial structures and systems breaking down and so we create something seemingly transcendental in order to reinforce them. The god, however, is superficial and is just another crumbling system which, in itself, is breaking down too.

I feel that this is what the Existentialists hit on; this idea that the system of religion and gods is breaking down and a regression into the most primal of states frightened them. We need to quantify the unquantifiable and so we do so in all the ways we can – even by creating more faulty systems of belief. We are all, in some ways, Stoics.

Nonetheless, the prospect of a god can never truly be disposed of to me. I often believe there is something transcendental.

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